LAKE ELSINORE, Calif. -- It's not always easy to know where a ballclub stands on a political issue, if it has a stance at all.
On Saturday night, though, the Lake Elsinore Storm made clear their adamant opposition to the 18th Amendment, flouting 100-year-old (and admittedly defunct) liquor laws with Anti-Prohibition Night at the Diamond.
The Class A Advanced affiliate of the San Diego Padres welcomed fans into an ad hoc speakeasy complete with ragtime tunes, era-appropriate cocktails and a casino -- all while raising money for charity. The team's evening contest against the San Jose Giants was also proceeded by an all-star game for the Southern California Vintage Base Ball League, in which representatives of five teams played a "match" in old-timey uniforms in accordance with old-timey rules.
"It's been really exciting for us to put it together," Storm director of finance and business administration Christine Kavic said. "I think it will be great to build on for years to come. It looks great in there. People seem to be having fun. It's just a matter of finding our niche and getting it out there.
"We always knew we would be doing the charity tie-in with this. We weren't looking to boost our own sales -- just something for our fans to enjoy."
Video: Storm host Anti-Prohibition Night promotion
The team landed an official sponsor -- Kalifornia Distilleries -- for the promotion, ensuring that the money spent in the speakeasy would go to the club's Thunder Cares Foundation, which supports community partner organizations such as Shoes That Fit, Big Brothers Big Sisters and S.A.F.E.R. -- a program that provides $150 gift cards to area children in need and brings the children on a shopping trip with Storm mascot Thunder and Lake Elsinore players.
One of the primary challenges of pulling off a promo involving a secret nightclub, of course, is amply advertising the night while maintaining a hip, clandestine atmosphere. While a bar owner may have the luxury of waiting a few nights for word to spread, a Minor League club with a one-night event does not. The Storm promoted Anti-Prohibition Night on their calendar, website, social media channels and via public address announcements during the game, but it's possible that some fans still didn't realize that The Diamond Club -- the ballpark's restaurant and banquet space down the left field line -- had been temporarily converted into a speakeasy.
"On the back of The Diamond Club there's a door that you can't get to unless you walk all the way around," said Lake Elsinore assistant general manager Mark Beskid. "It actually goes by all our empty kegs and all that stuff. The original plan was to do that, and we were going to have it where there was a secret knock and a password in order for us to open the door from the inside. ... That might happen next year if we continue to do [Anti-Prohibition Night], but last minute we were kind of like, 'Well, if nobody really knows about it...'"
Those who did find their way into the team's speakeasy found a detailed, lively decor (think Al Capone wanted posters, art deco menus and boas, fedoras and ladies gloves atop kegs) designed by director of first impressions and office manager Peggy Mitchell and complemented by craps and poker tables and dealers provided by vendor Feeling Lucky Entertainment.
The Southern California Vintage Base Ball League also took the field Saturday.
"This is just really fun. I get to play 21 with my favorite dealer," said Cathy Bearse of nearby Murietta. "I'm just having fun, just kicking back. I was just excited that I get to have a night when I get to just relax and have fun, and that's what I'm doing. It was on the internet, and I was like, 'That looks like a lot of fun! I'm going to go.'"
The promotion had roots in an idea for a "Great Gatsby" or Roaring '20s theme night, but the realization that 2019 marked the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 18th Amendment steered the team into the direction of Prohibition. The wheels were already in motion when the Southern California Vintage Base Ball League reached out in hopes of holding its all-star game at The Diamond during its inaugural season. Grouping the two possible events into one wild, retro night made sense, even though the vintage league looks back to a few decades before Prohibition.
"It's up and coming, and it's really fun. It goes back to the old 1886 rules, so it's a different bat, different glove," said Matt Butler, who plays for the Palmdate Blue Stockings under the name Jeeves.
The game's lone umpire -- called "sir" -- stands behind the pitcher's mound, still counting three strikes for an out but requiring seven balls for a walk. If a batter is hit by a pitch, he's not awarded a base but only one ball. Dan Reeder of the Long Beach Oilers got a nasty reminder of that Saturday. His outer ear was crusted with blood as he sat outside the speakeasy during the Storm game.
"No helmets. We didn't wear helmets back in 1886, so... yeah," he said. "Fortunately, it didn't go as bad as it could have. I'm good, man. I took a hard fastball to the ear, but it's still good."
"Jeeves" Butler and "Hack" Stergious obey period-inspired league rules to avoid smiling for photos.
There are other differences in the way vintage games are played, such as the absence of the infield-fly rule and a lightning-quick pace.
"The batter doesn't have the ability to call timeout, so if he's not in the box, they can throw it for a strike whether he's there or not, so the batter has to be ready," Steve "Hack" Stergious said. "But the batter does get to choose a zone. We have a high zone or a low zone, so we'll tell the sir [which we prefer]."
On Saturday, the 19th-century baseballers had the opportunity to ease themselves back into the 21st with a stop in Anti-Prohibition Night's speakeasy.
"I was just checking it out," Reeder said. "It's pretty cool."